Why CBE Programs Need to Focus on Measurable Competencies and Communication
Adult learners comprise much of the post-secondary student population in the United States. As such, colleges and universities have begun to respond to the need by implementing more competency-based education (CBE) programs. Drilling down to the K-12 level, CBE is crucial to help make learning more accessible to students, while giving them much needed support along the way. But in order for CBE programs to be successful at any level, educational institutions must take the time to nail down well-defined competencies that can be measured and assessed, as well as properly communicated.
When institutions take the time to measure their competencies, it shifts the focus to skills and abilities that students will need to be successful in either their next level of education or in their careers. Perhaps one stumbling block to creating competencies is the belief that they must be generated from scratch, which is not always the case. For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has a published resource on professional and personal core competencies needed for those entering the accounting profession. So, schools with accounting programs can find what they need in the AICPA resource, and then revise their curricula to provide the content necessary for students to demonstrate competency. If resources for a specific competency haven’t been published, schools can still create their own based on information available from the recognized authority of a profession. For example, if you need to write competencies for a nursing program, you’d want to make sure they align with the principles and standards of the American Nurses Association (ANA).
However, you can have the most wonderfully crafted competencies, but if you have no way to measure their success, then you’re not only wasting your time, but your students as well. The best way to measure CBE competencies and determine whether a student has mastered them, is by offering multiple measures of those competencies, and with multiple assessment methods that builds a strong case for the validity of the CBE program. This means each competency must be measured multiple times and in multiple ways (i.e., papers, presentations, etc.). Focusing on clusters of competencies as they might appear in the real world rather than on just one competency will give the results more value for determining students’ competency.
Putting Communication into Context
Let’s say you’ve checked all the boxes when it comes to creating, implementing, and assessing your competencies. If you are unable to effectively communicate the benefits of CBE to ensure buy-in for your programs, you’re doing a great disservice to students. While the approach educators use to communicate the value of competencies will differ widely across institutions, start by identifying your stakeholders—employers, local government officials, and job seekers, to name a few. Constant communication with stakeholders will help them feel like valued members of the process and allows institutions to refine competencies so that they are offering students the absolute best education experience they can.